Persistence of Vision

The Web was never intended for its current purpose. It was built for enabling quick access to cross-referenced scientific papers. And what do we use it for? The Kraft Foods Hulk Smash For Cash Game.

Well, this is a good thing. The game is clever, well integrated into the site, and properly structured to help the brand build its database. But… wow. What a trip.

At the heart of each application lies the same essential technological concept: a network built on stateless connections. There’s been no shortage of refinement and evolution to this architecture. But one of the most important early benefits of Web technology was a network protocol built so clients could connect to servers only long enough to request and receive pages. After the page was received, the connection was severed. This made Web servers quite efficient, serving multiple clients by consistently freeing itself up to field new requests.

Thing is, under this system, every request is brand-new and essentially disassociated from any previous connection. Fine if you’re serving papers about electrons spinning clockwise in negative polar fields (or whatever it is electrons do), but frustrating to the marketer who wants to know how many times a person played the Hulk game and whether she also viewed a recipe. In the grand evolution of the Web, commerce both catalyzed and shaped its evolution. The desire to connect the dots of a consumer’s interaction propelled the development of serving, tracking, and reporting technology. The latest round is Macromedia and DoubleClick’s new version of Motif, which has multiple-event tracking ability.

Getting Away From Get-It-and-Gone

For marketers, the Web’s dot-connecting ability should be the center of any interactive brand strategy. Offline, purchases mirror that get-it-and-gone process. Although there are loyalty-measuring methods, they are mostly deductive. Online has the potential to view multiple brand interactions as a continuum. Marketers should take this to heart and use the Web to build loyalty.

Web technology evolved away from get-it-and-gone toward get-it-and-take-it-with-you (GIATIWY). This persistence is a critical foothold for online services. GIATIWY strategies are being put in place in a big way right now by the search engines, each of which now offers a toolbar. These quasi-applications fit right in to Internet Explorer’s browser, providing a direct link to searches and other functionalities.

Uptake on the toolbars has been somewhat slow but appears to be accelerating. Yahoo has offered a toolbar for a number of years. The other engines have all had one for at least the last year and a half. Jupiter Research estimates only about one in five Internet users have installed these applications.

Widespread adoption will most likely come as a result of some killer functionality, a toolbar feature that will make people not only want it, but question how they could have lived without it. Google appears to believe that functionality will be pop-up blocking. The search engine may be right and is in a good position to offer it. Google is as far away from pop-ups as you can imagine.

The Importance of Persistence

The reason these toolbars are so important is search engines (any online service, really) face the same problem as traditional brands. Every time a kid’s thirsty, he has a wide selection of drinks to choose from. Every time that kid wants to know more about skateboards, he has a wide selection of search engines to choose from. A toolbar installed on that kid’s computer is like a Coke machine in his locker. When a brand has a persistent presence, its likelihood of being chosen shoots way up. That’s why brands battle for position on store shelves.

Online businesses should realize a shadow is stalking them. A fragmentation of access to online services is approaching, taking consumers away from strict in-browser experiences. The big one is Microsoft’s coming release of Office with a Research pane, allowing direct connections from within applications such as Word to services.

Online services must ensure they’re thinking about their brand experiences beyond what happens inside the browser. They should generate access paths from a person’s regular habits and patterns to their services. Toolbars for search sites provide that first persistent connection. It will be built on.

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